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San Francisco Sailing Upwind in America’s Cup Bid

| December 22, 2010
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What all the fuss is about. Photo Library of Congress.

Matier & Ross in the Chronicle today called San Francisco’s effort to salvage its America’s Cup bid “last-ditch,” deeming Newport, RI as the new frontrunner to win hosting rights for the 2013 sailing regatta.

That’s a far cry from the days when the only issue around San Francisco’s bid was whether the city was offering too much in its negotiations with Larry Ellison and his BMW Oracle racing team, whose win in the last America’s Cup confers upon the local billionaire the right to pick the venue for the coming competition.

Indeed, in the words of Ellison team official Stephen Barclay, the city seemed to “snatch defeat from the jaws of victory” when it changed some of the terms of its bid, holding to them despite warnings from race organizers. At this point, the city can’t sweeten the bid much more without running it through the San Francisco political ringer again. With a deadline of Dec 31, that’s unlikely.

Maybe this has more to do with Rhode Island’s self-image, but the state’s local media coverage of the inter-coastal contest with San Francisco hardly qualifies as trash talk. Today’s Providence Journal coverage, for example, reads anything but confident about Newport’s chances:

(I)t remains unclear how the Ocean State would cobble together anywhere from $10 million to more than $50 million to prepare Fort Adams to be the world-class sailing venue that reigning champion BMW Oracle is seeking.

It also remains unclear how Rhode Island would find the funds by Dec. 31, BMW Oracle’s deadline for announcing its host city.

“I can’t see it happening in 10 days, but I can see it happening in a couple of months,” said longtime yachting expert Halsey Herreshoff, who is on the 11-member committee formed this year to attract the Cup or pre-regatta races. “The reason it might be easier now is the big emphasis on job creation.”

And this WPRI Rhode Island report says there’s a “small chance” that the state will beat out San Francisco.

Anyway, if Ellison does find himself jazzed enough by Newport to decide in its favor, Bay Area folk seem more in the mood to blame him, the planet’s sixth richest individual, than city officials. Jonathan Weber of the Bay Citizen writes:

(Ellison’s) negotiations with the City of San Francisco over staging the America’s Cup sailing competition have been anything but artful. Rather, the same arrogance and overreach that caused him to lose out on buying the Golden State Warriors basketball team have been on display.

It seems that what works in the software world, where Oracle just reported blowout earnings and its stock hit a 10-year high, is not what works in big-time sports. And if the next America’s Cup happens somewhere other than San Francisco Bay, it will be Mr. Ellison’s loss.

And writes Mark Purdy of the Merc:

(P)erhaps you have not been following the strange and ruthless America’s Cup dance in San Francisco. It has been quite the entertaining example of how gazillionaires such as Ellison love to do business. Hint: Never take it for granted that they care as much about local pride and local people as they do about crafting a fabulous real estate deal…

The fact that Ellison would threaten to abandon his “hometown” and instead take that party to Newport, headquarters of the New York Yacht Club and famed as a tony getaway spot for Eastern Seaboard swells “… well, it tells you something about the man.

I have never swabbed a deck for Larry the Merciless, who according to the latest Forbes Magazine rankings is America’s third-wealthiest human with $27 billion to his name. I cannot read the man’s mind. And this flirtation with Newport could be a ploy to squeeze a better deal out of San Francisco, which is a disgusting idea in its own right, given his wealth. But right now, here’s what the situation looks like:

To Ellison in these negotiations, the Bay Area was just another corporate foe to be conquered. If he wished, Ellison could underwrite the entire America’s Cup event here with his own dough. But he wants to win the negotiations as badly as he wants to win another Cup. And he would rather defend his title surrounded by his filthy-rich boating pals from New York instead of subsidizing a fun spectacle for the Northern California folks who make up his workforce.

Besides, some pre-emptive sour grapes may already be in play. The San Francisco blog Curbed writes today that the America’s Cup isn’t what it used to be, anyway:

Meanwhile, Ellison’s event may be shrinking. There are only four confirmed teams, plus one whose identity has yet to be revealed, and with the exception of Oracle/BMW, all based in Europe. Newport is closer- seriously, who wants to sail through the Panama Canal? The entry fee has been reduced by two-thirds and teams given an extra five months to remit. More critically, the looming financial crisis in Europe may deter corporate sponsors from fully funding even the teams now on the roster. According to the Telegraph, sponsors pony up at least £30M a year over three years, which translates roughly to $140,000,000. So Newport may well win out- a smaller, equally scenic venue, less fog, less upfront costs for Oracle/BMW.

As for some in the city’s progressive community, a failed bid to hold the “billionaire yacht race” will probably only elicit a response of good riddance.

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  • jeremy coon

    so who gives a s***. this overblown carnival of obscenely expensive ugly boats trying to race around in a small shallow and overcrowded bay at the cost of upheaving the entire waterfront to please one egotisticol billlionaire who is only interested in waving his d*** at the world and gaining control of the waterfront to turn it into a giant computer town…..let newport have him. in fact PAY THEM TO TAKE HIM !!